Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Can Collective Intentionality Be Individualized? (Criticisms and Reconstructions)

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Can Collective Intentionality Be Individualized? (Criticisms and Reconstructions)

Article excerpt

It is one of the merits of Searle's book The Construction of Social Reality that it has renewed the interest in the ontology of the social world. Philosophers and social scientists nowadays increasingly focus on the ontology of institutions, the role of speech acts in the creation of social facts, the intentionality of collective agents, and the functions these agents impose on non-intentional entities. The interest that The Construction of Social Reality has aroused in wider circles clearly shows that Searle is not solely a philosopher's philosopher. He is very influential in the intellectual community at large, which is a virtue in itself in an era of increased specialization in almost all philosophical disciplines.

In this article I will first situate The Construction of Social Reality in Searle's overall philosophical project (Section I). Searle's interest in social phenomena has been part of this project ever since his first book, Speech Acts, in which he analyzes speech acts as social acts. In Section II, I will focus on one of Searle's main "building blocks" of social reality: the notion of collective intentionality. Any fact involving collective intentionality is defined by Searle as a social fact. I will argue in this section that Searle's internalist conception of collective intentionality cannot account for the normativity of social phenomena. In Section III, I will diagnose the problem in Searle's position, which is, that a single model is assumed to apply to all types of intentional states. Searle's internalism stands in the way of an adequate concept of collective intentionality, which incorporates social relations. A conclusion follows in the final section.


Searle's Philosophical Project

IN THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY Searle formulates a question that, in my view, is characteristic of his philosophical project as a whole: How do the various parts of the world relate to each other? Or, more precisely: How do intentional phenomena and consciousness fit into a world made up entirely of physical particles in fields of force? This question is central to Searle's project, from Speech Acts to his book Mind, Language and Society. (1) This, of course, is not to deny that in many places Searle addresses specific questions, for example, how proper names refer, or how promising succeeds. Nevertheless, the ultimate question Searle is driving at is the one mentioned above. It is an ontological question since it is concerned with the logical analysis of phenomena and the way they relate to each other. Epistemology, according to Searle, "has an important but certainly not a central place in the enterprise of philosophy" (Searle 1995: 173).

To this fundamental question, Searle gives basically two types of answers: one in terms of what may be called his principle of constitution, that is, "X constitutes Y in context C," the other in terms of what may be called his principle of transfer, for which he uses his well-known formula "X counts as Y in context C." (2)

The principle of constitution is used to explain how higher-order properties arise in both physical and biological systems. It allows Searle to simultaneously maintain the atomic theory of matter and the irreducibility of macro phenomena that arise at a particular stage of development. The liquidity of water, for example, is caused by a particular micro structure of [H.sub.O] molecules (at least six molecules are needed for this type of behavior), since liquidity is not a property of the individual molecules. This "levelist" model is also used by Searle for other phenomena. Biological life is constituted when a particular complex configuration of DNA molecules is developed in the course of evolution, but it is not a property of the individual DNA molecules. The constitution principle "X constitutes Y in context C' also applies to such macro phenomena as consciousness and intentionality; they are caused by and realized in a particular neurophysiological structure. …

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